The Welsh blue chip ‘healing secrets’ of Stonehenge

28 03 2010

WHY transport more than 80 two- tonne megaliths over 156 miles of mountain, river and sea to build a stone circle at Stonehenge? It hasremained one of Britain’s most enduring mysteries. Some have claimed the iconic site on Salisbury Plain was an ancient observatory for lunar and solar events. Others claimed it was a burial site for the high-born while Arthurian legend has it Merlin transported the stones. But now a Welshman from Pembrokeshire, the place where many believe the stones originate, claims he has the answer. Professor Geoffrey Wainwright, an honorary fellow of Lampeter and Cardiff Universities, released findings yesterday to support a theory that Stonehenge was a “prehistoric Lourdes”. The findings suggesting its significance as a healing centre for pilgrims were made in a historic dig at the World Heritage Site earlier this year. The first excavation of Stonehenge for more than 40 years uncovered fragments of stone which experts believe could have been used as lucky charms. Professor Wainwright believes that Stonehenge was a centre of healing to which the sick and injured travelled from far and wide, to be healed “by the powers of the bluestones”. He noted during the dig that “an abnormal number” of the bodies found in tombs near Stonehenge displayed signs of serious physical injury and disease. And analysis of teeth recovered from graves show that around half of the corpses were from people who were not native to the Stonehenge area. Archaeology expert Professor Wainwright, chairman of the Society of Antiquaries of London, and Professor Tim Darvill of Bournemouth University, have been working together for years to find out why Stonehenge was built. English Heritage agreed to the dig on Salisbury Plain, the first since 1964, following consent by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The academics said they could now pinpoint the date at which the blue stones – which the archaeologists believe hold the key to Stonehenge – were brought to the site in Wiltshire from West Wales, as 2300BC, 300 years later than previously thought. The stones were once believed to have come from a crag in the Preseli Hills called Carn Menyn. But a newer theory is that they were brought from glacial deposits much nearer the site, which had been carried down from the northern side of the Preselis to southern England by the Irish Sea Glacier. The professors also told a press conference at the Society of Antiquaries in London that people remained interested in the magical, healing qualities of the stones for many hundreds of years after Stonehenge was built. Prof Darvill said: “It could have been a temple at the same time as it was a healing centre, just as Lourdes is a religious centre.” Prof Darvill suggested the blue stones, which have tiny white spots, could have acted in a similar way to the bones of saints. They argued that as thousands of pilgrims flocked to see them at Stonehenge the resulting wealth enabled an “elaborate shell” of more stone pillars to be built. Prof Wainwright said he was inspired to investigate the area in his native Pembrokeshire while watching a television programme about why Stonehenge was built. He said: “I thought the answer really had to be found in the place where the stones came from. That is in north Pembrokeshire, so Tim and I went and did a survey around the crag. “We found various reasons which led us to believe the stones were used as part of a belief in a healing process.” But he said they needed to study the Stonehenge site to find out when the bluestones arrived there and how long they were used. The radiocarbon dating of the original double bluestone circle held significance for the start of Stonehenge being used as a healing centre. The date – 2300BC – links the introduction of the bluestones with a time of great activity at the site, including the death of the Amesbury archer. His remains were discovered about five miles from Stonehenge and the professors believe he was a pilgrim hoping to benefit from the healing powers of the monument. Prof Wainwright said: “We now know, much to our surprise and delight, that Stonehenge was not just a prehistoric monument, it was a Roman and medi- aeval monument.” Were the huge stones transported all the way from West Wales? The stone pillars of Stonehenge are natural columns of white spotted dolerite and occur only in the Preseli Hills’ Carn Menyn area. They were first identified as of Welsh origin by Dr John HH Thomas in 1923. Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of a “band of brothers” found near Stonehenge and scientists have proved they were Welsh, suggesting it was people from Pembrokeshire who actually transported them. The skeletons, three adults, a teenager and three children, were found by workmen laying a pipe on Boscombe Down and chemical analysis of their teeth revealed they were brought up in the South West Wales area. Experts believed the family accompanied the stones on their epic journey from the Preseli Hills to Salisbury Plain. As an extension of the theory that Stonehenge was a healing centre, on digs around the country, archaeologists will now look for any evidence of bluestone being transported from Wales to other monuments. Professors Wainwright and Darvill also said they hope to return to the Preseli Hills next year to excavate part of a burial mound near the main bluestone outcrops. Prof Darvill said of the bluestones: “Their meaning and importance to prehistoric people was sufficiently powerful to warrant the investment of time, effort and resources to move the bluestones from the Preseli Hills of Wales to the Wessex downs.”#

Merlin @ Stonehenge
Stonehenge Stone Circle





Spring Equinox at Avebury, one of Britain’s stone circles

27 03 2010

Druids and King Arthur at Avebury Stone CircleThe sun is slowly sinking in a golden glow behind the stones of Avebury, the largest stone circle in Europe. The massive Swindon stone becomes a silhouette, its 60-tonne bulk solid and unmoved against the sky just as it has been since it was first placed here by Ancient Britons more than 4,000 years ago.

 Mention stone circles, and most people think of Stonehenge and Druids. In fact, there are more than 1,000 stone circles in Britain, and none was built by Druids (the stones are far older than Druidism). Avebury Ring is the largest, some 14 times the size of Stonehenge, and a particular joy to visit. There are no tickets, no fences, no restrictions and no crowds. You – and the sheep – move freely around the prehistoric sites, taking your time, choosing your viewpoint and touching the stones at will.

We climb to the top of the ancient bank that surrounds the stones and look out over the landscape. We can see the mysterious Silbury Hill, Europe’s largest prehistoric, man-made mound that sits 40m high like a vast upturned pudding, visible for miles around. Then there’s the avenue of paired stones leading away into the distance. The route once linked Avebury to The Sanctuary, another Neolithic sacred site. Further away, towards an even earlier monument, we can spot the 5,500-year-old ancestral stone grave of West Kennet Long Barrow.

Prehistory and contemporary life intermingle. A road cuts through the site, but manages not to intrude too much even though the village of Avebury sits partly within the largest stone circle. The material for some of the 18th-century houses has been hacked from the circle’s sarsen stones.

The National Trust museum, which is housed in two barns, displays artefacts found on the site, as well as providing plenty of background information. The older of the two galleries, the Stables Museum, pays particular attention to how we know about the society that built and used Avebury – and just how little is certain. There are some intriguing objects, too, including one for the children: a chunk of Neolithic dog poo.

The newer Barn Gallery is much higher tech and generally more child-friendly, with interactive displays and activities, and an excellent world time-line showing that Avebury and Silbury Hill were built about the same time as the earliest Egyptian pyramid and long before King Tutankhamun.

From the museum, a few steps take you straight up into the circle. It is 1.3km round the largest ring, with 27 of the original 100 or so stones still standing. There are two smaller circles and a row of stones in the interior. None has been dressed (cut), as some have at Stonehenge. At Avebury the stones were simply selected, dragged to the site and positioned. Go for a stroll on Fyfield Down above Avebury and you’ll still find vast sarsen stones “in the wild”, just lying around in the grass.

What exactly Avebury, or any other stone circle, was built for remains uncertain. Some rings do have sight lines to astronomical phenomena, but as Aubrey Burl, an expert on stone circles remarks in his excellent introduction to the subject, Prehistoric Stone Circles: “The possibility of a ring being an observatory is a matter of conjecture, the presence of human cremations is not.”

The chances are the circles had a ritual use, perhaps some kind of ancestral cult. Certainly, walking up The Avenue towards the Avebury Circle it is easy to imagine a ritual procession. The Avenue is clearly designed to bring you glimpses of the circle before a triumphal arrival at its entrance. The circles may also have been meeting places, or were even used for trading purposes, and probably had different uses at different times.

Some modern visitors insist they feel special energies and spirituality at Avebury. I don’t know about that, but I do feel a tremendous sense of history – and it is a very beautiful place.

‘Prehistoric Stone Circles’ is published by Shire at £5.99. Avebury, near Marlborough, Wiltshire (01672 539250 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              01672 539250      end_of_the_skype_highlighting; nationaltrust. org.uk; english-heritage.org. uk/avebury; stone pages.com /england/avebury. html). The museum is open November-March 10am-4pm, April-October 10am-6pm. Adults £4.20, children £2.10, English Heritage and National Trust members free. There is a car park on the A4361 south of Avebury, a café, and a shop selling ‘The Prehistoric Monuments of Avebury’, price £1.75

So solid crew

STONEHENGE

A World Heritage site, Stonehenge, in Wiltshire, is the most spectacular stone circle in Britain, with carefully crafted standing stones and unique horizontal lintels held in place by carved joints. The atmosphere is adversely affected by two main roads and the approach through a tunnel. Visitors are routed around the monument for a comprehensive view. Stone Circle Access visits (01722 343834 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              01722 343834      end_of_the_skype_highlighting) can be arranged outside opening hours. (0870 3331181 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              0870 3331181      end_of_the_skype_highlighting; english-heritage.org.uk/ stonehenge). The new ‘Stonehenge Guidebook’ by Julian Richards costs £4.99.

CASTLERIGG

This is a large and highly atmospheric site on the top of a Cumbrian fell, near Keswick, with stunning views of surrounding hills. An early circle – probably built in 3,200-3,000BC – it has significant astronomical alignments in its 30m-diameter ring of 38 stones and its unique 10-stone rectangle. (english-heritage. org.uk; visitcumbria.com/kes/ casstone.htm).

STANTON DREW

There are two main circles at this site near Bristol, one 113m across, the other 30m. There are also single stones that were perhaps once part of an avenue. (english-heritage. org. uk/ stantondrew; easyweb. easy net. co.uk/ ~aburnham/eng/ stant1.htm).

RING OF BRODGAR

Part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, the largest stone circle in Scotland, near Stromness (pictured), is set in a ritual landscape of other standing stones and Bronze Age round barrows. They stand, unusually, in a true circle. Historic Scotland World Heritage Site Ranger Service (01856 841732 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              01856 841732      end_of_the_skype_highlighting; orkneyrangers@scotland.gov.uk; easyweb.easy net.co.uk/ ~aburnham/scot/brog.htm)

OTHER STONE CIRCLES

There are hundreds of other circles that can be visited, from the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire to Callanish on the Isle of Lewis, as well as many lesser-known ones. Standing stones may be found almost anywhere in Britain, other than in the east.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Go to megalithic.co.uk for maps and information. ‘A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany’ by Aubrey Burl includes map references and directions. It is published by Yale University Press and costs £8.95.

 Merlin @ Avebury Stone Circle
Stonehenge Stone Circle





Stonehenge opens to Druids for Vernal Equinox

26 03 2010
 

English Heritage site welcomes worshippers to mark the start of spring

Druids celebrate the sping equinox at Stonehenge(Panasonic)

A handful of lucky Druids took advantage of a rare opportunity to walk amongst Stonehenge this Saturday, 20 March in celebration of the Spring Equinox. Less than a hundred visitors, including Druids and pagan worshippers met at around 5.30am to watch the sunrise and welcome in the spring.

Despite the wet, windy weather, traditional customs such as blessings, chants and drum choruses went ahead in the middle of the ordinarily protected English Heritage site.

With characters dressed in outfits of white robes, floral headdresses, witches brooms and even stag’s antlers, attendees worshipped as the sun rose directly above the equator.

Despite heavy cloud cover, the gathered crowd enjoyed a brief glimpse of the sun before taking advantage of their rare chance to touch and interact with the stones.

Formal proceedings were overseen by renowned Arch Druid of Stonehenge Rollo MaughFling, leading both traditional chants and calling for more contemporary solutions, too. When talking about the upcoming General Election, the Arch Druid strayed away from a political bias and instead asked that, “Whoever is best fitted to lead us out of recession and back into prosperity be the party that wins as many people are suffering.”

One fellow Druid not afraid of showing his political stance was notorious eco-campaigner, Arthur Uther Pendragon, announcing his decision to run as an independent candidate in the forthcoming election.

“I have stood three times previously,” he told MSN UK, “The first time, I embarrassed the British National Party into last place, the second time, the new leader of the Monster Raving Looney Party into last place, and the third time I embarrassed myself into last place, but still polling 1% of the Vote.”

The day was also saw a posthumous appearance by Wally Hope, the founder of the Stonehenge festival. Since his death in 1975, the ashes of Wally Hope have been carried to the stones by their official keepers.





How and Why Was Stonehenge Built?

22 03 2010

StonehengeFrom the grassy deserted plains of southern England rises a circle of standing stones, some of them up to 24 feet tall. For centuries they have towered over visitors, offering tantalizing hints about their prehistoric past. For centuries, everyone who has stood before them has wondered the same thing: Who built this mysterious rock monument? And why? “Since Stonehenge was built and rebuilt over a period of centuries, no one group has sole credit for its construction, but the main building seems to have been done by a people known as the ‘Beaker Folk,’” says Benjamin Hudson, professor of History and Medieval Studies at Penn State. The Beaker Folk (who earned their name from the distinctive inverted bell-shaped pottery drinking vessels they made) scattered throughout prehistoric western Europe. The earliest construction at Stonehenge began about 3000 B.C., says Hudson, with a stone circle inside a ditch and bank. Within that circle lay a timber building; researchers have excavated from the site about 56 pits containing the remains of human cremations. Construction continued for 600 years, in several phases of landscaping: Burial mounds (most pointing east-to-west) and ceremonial pathways were added to the site. In 2400 B.C., the builders erected the large sandstone blocks which give the site its name. (Coined by Henry of Huntingdon, a twelfth-century English historian, “Stonehenge” means “hinged or supported stones.”) The means of moving those enormous standing stones has provoked centuries of speculation, with theories ranging from demonic powers to Merlin’s magic to alien technology. The reality is much more ordinary, says Hudson. “Much of the construction was little more than putting enough men under a stone to move it into place,” he notes, “although some basic engineering was required for the larger stones and the lintels.” One theory holds that the builders used simple inclines and levers to move the stones into place. Like the Egyptian pyramid-builders, the Stonehenge constructors relied more on brute labor than sophisticated technology. Though one of the most complete and monumental examples of Neolithic and Bronze Age construction, Stonehenge was not alone in its time. Hudson notes one estimate that places it among 300 surviving stone monuments throughout the British Isles—including the famous stone circle in Avebury. The connections between and among these sites often remain murky, and undoubtedly many creations of the Beaker Folk have returned to nature, leaving few traces of their existence. “Stonehenge forces us to reconsider the period of history that is not accompanied by written records,” Hudson says. Since the builders left no explanation, the precise purpose of their work remains obscure. One theory sees Stonehenge as a temple, pointing to the elaborate landscaping surrounding the site. More recently, historians and archaeologists have suggested it provided an observatory for either moon or sun cults. The Beaker Folk are believed to have been sun worshipers who aligned Stonehenge with certain important sun events, such as mid summer and winter solstices. While the absence of records makes it nearly impossible to be certain about Stonehenge’s purpose, the site itself does leave us with a portrait of Beaker Folk society. “The building of the monument required knowledge of civil engineering, transportation, and quarrying,” he says. “The society that constructed it was wealthy enough to afford such an expensive venture and it also had a developed theology that provided the guidance for the designs whose meanings still elude us.” Perhaps it is that elusive meaning that has, for centuries, drawn people to Stonehenge, to sit and wonder among the silent stones.

Stonehenge Guide
Stonehenge Stone Circle





Spring Equinox at Stonehenge

19 03 2010
This is the second of the four ‘sky points’ in our Wheel of the Year and it is when the sun does a perfect balancing act in the heavens.

 

At the Spring (or Vernal) Equinox the sun rises exactly in the east, travels through the sky for 12 hours and then sets exactly in the west. So all over the world, at this special moment, day and night are of equal length hence the word equinox which means ‘equal night’.

Of course, for those of us here in the northern hemisphere it is this equinox that brings us out of our winter.

For those in the southern hemisphere, this time is the autumnal equinox that is taking you in to your winter. And this is very much how I think of the equinoxes – as the ‘edges’ of winter. This is why they can be quite hard on our bodies as it is a major climatic shift, so it is a good time to give a boost to your immune system with natural remedies and cleansing foods.

Here in Wiltshire (as with the rest of rural Britain), it was traditional to drink dandelion and burdock cordials at this time as these herbs help to cleanse the blood and are a good tonic for the body after its winter hardships.

As the Vernal Equinox heralds the arrival of spring, it is a time of renewal in both nature and the home, so time for some spring-cleaning!

This is more than just a physical activity, it also helps to remove any old or negative energies accumulated over the dark, heavy winter months preparing the way for the positive growing energy of spring and summer.

As with all the other key festivals of the year, there are both Pagan and Christian associations with the Spring Equinox.

To Pagans, this is the time of the ancient Saxon goddess, Eostre, who stands for new beginnings and fertility.

This is why she is symbolized by eggs (new life) and rabbits/hares (fertility).

Her name is also the root of the term we give to the female hormone, oestrogen.By now, you may be beginning to see the Christian celebration derived from this festival – Easter.

And this is the reason why the ‘Easter Bunny’ brings us coloured eggs (and if you’re lucky chocolate ones!) at this time of year.

So, as nature starts to sprout the seeds that have been gestating in her belly throughout the winter, maybe you can start to think about what you want to ‘sprout’ in your life now and start to take action. 

Celti Wheel

Celtic Wheel

In between these ‘sky points’ are the Cross-quarter days which mark ‘gear shifts’ in the energy of the earth. These times are also important agriculturally.

Imbolc (Beginning of February) is when the first lambs are born and ewe’s milk is available again after the long winter. The year is beginning to stir and wake-up.

Beltane (Beginning of May) is the transition from spring to summer when Nature is pumping with life-force and fertility.

Lammas (Beginning of August) is the time of ripeness and when the earth starts to give up her harvest.

Samhain (Beginning of November) is the end/beginning of the Celtic year. It is a time when the veil between the worlds is thinnest and it is possible to commune with the ancestors.

There is great joy in being aware of the seasons in this way and celebrating them in simple ways.

As the year unfolds, we will look in detail at the eight energy-points of the year and the ways in which they affect us.

We will also look at how these festivals have been celebrated in Wiltshire, both past and present.

Merlin – Stonehenge Tour Guide
Stonehenge Stone Circle





Grantham’s “Stonehenge” has got everyone talking

16 03 2010

 

editorial image 

Scene Setter : Somerby Hill Roundabout.

IS it a Satanic site of human sacrifice? Or maybe an area of deep spiritual awakening? 

 Neither of course, it is merely the latest in Grantham roundabout makeovers. 

The Old Somerby roundabout featuring an arrangement of Ancaster Stone is the fourth Grantham “gateway” to be given a new look in recent months.  

Workers have been finishing it off this week and before it had even been completed it had already been dubbed “Grantham’s Stonehenge”.  

It remains to be seen whether the new attraction will draw mystics and spiritualists from across the country or what the arrangement of rocks means.  

The work has been largely funded thanks to a generous personal donation by a Miss Bean of Old Somerby, with sponsors chipping in the rest alongside Grantham Growth and Grantham Future.  

The cost of installation and five-year maintenance is £25,315.  

David Holmes chairman of Old Somerby Parish Council, said: “We are delighted to finally see come to fruition our plans for the renovation of this major entrance to Grantham.  

“It will greatly enhance the area.”  

Journal reader and motorcyclist Steve Foster was first to get in touch and point out the uncanny resemblance to the Salisbury tourist attraction.  

He said: “It looks like Stonehenge. It is just rediculous – the rocks are about five-feet high. “It must have cost a fortune.” 

 Journal reader Adrian Hewis said: “Is the re-creation of ‘Stonehenge’ at Somerby roundabout an essential expenditure considering the number of poorly maintained roads in the locale?” 

 However a Mrs Palmer got in touch to say she was so pleased with the work she pulled over to thank the workmen earlier this week. 

 She said: “They are making an excellent job of it. 

 “It is really nice and whoever is responsible really deserves a bit of credit.” 





Durrington Walls, Wiltshire: Walk of the week

13 03 2010

The first of our new series of weekly walks, provided by the National Trust, is a ramble around mysterious Durrington Walls in Wiltshire, with views towards Stonehenge.

View Durrington Walls: Walk of the week in a larger map
THE EXPERT’S VIEW

Mike Dando, Head Warden: “The walk starts at the largest henge monument in the country and takes you past ancient monuments such as Round Barrows and the ‘Cuckoo Stone’ where it is easy to imagine the landscape as it was some 4,000 years ago. The walk takes in beautiful grazed grassland, strips of mature Beech trees and offers fantastic views across the Stonehenge Landscape.

Download an OS map of this walk

“My favourite part of this walk would have to be walking past the New King Barrows, the large Bronze Age burial mounds. A stop here on a warm summers’ day, listening to the skylarks and the beech leaves rustling, is hard to beat, especially on top of the view over to Stonehenge itself.

“Unique to this walk is the sense of being in an ancient and sacred place; the combination of the natural and historic sights is simply spectacular. My top tip for first time walkers would be to bring binoculars to take in the wildlife and views.”

ESSENTIALS
Start: Woodhenge car park
Grid ref: SU151434
Map: OS Landranger 184

Getting there
Bike: National Cycle Network route 45 runs south-east of the property. See http://www.sustrans.org.uk

Bus: Wilts & Dorset 5 or 6, between Salisbury, Pewsey, Marlborough and Swindon. Service 16 from Amesbury, request stop at Woodhenge

Rail: Salisbury station, 9 miles from Woodhenge car park

Road: Woodhenge car park is 1¾ miles north of Amesbury, follow signs from A345

Distance, terrain and accessibility

4 mile (6.4km) across open access land, including Rights of Way, with gates, at several points. The ground is uneven in places, with a few short, steep slopes. Sheep graze the fields and there are ground-nesting birds, so please keep dogs under control.

Local facilities
Picnic area (not NT) and information panel at Woodhenge car park
WCs
Outdoor café
Picnic area (not NT) at Stonehenge car park, 0.75 miles from this walking route.
THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR

Durrington Walls: The largest complete henge in Britain is 500m in diameter and encloses a natural valley. It once contained timber circles and what appear to have been shrines. The area outside the ditch and bank was once a settlement, perhaps containing hundreds of houses, making Durrington Walls potentially the largest village in north-west Europe at the time. People travelled for miles to feast and take part in ceremonies, probably at the midwinter solstice. Woodhenge stood nearby as an impressive timber circle surrounded by a bank and ditch.

The Cuckoo Stone: This standing stone now lies on its side, but over millennia it has been a focus for Bronze Age urn burials, an Iron Age boundary line and Roman remains. It is made of sarsen, a kind of sandstone, the same as the largest stones in the Stonehenge stone circle. The reason for its name remains a mystery.

The Stonehenge Avenue: A two mile long ceremonial way linking Stonehenge with the River Avon and crossing King Barrow Ridge. Interestingly, Durrington Walls is also connected to the river, leading experts to believe the Avon symbolically linked the two monuments, forming part of a ritual journey; maybe leading to the afterlife.

DIRECTIONS

Download an OS map of this walk

1. At Woodhenge car park, go through the gate nearest to you and into a field. Walk downhill into Durrington Walls (taking care of rabbit holes).

2. At the centre of Durrington Walls, looking around you, you can appreciate the nature of the henge as an enclosed valley. Standing here 4,500 years ago, you would have been viewing several “shrines” around the slopes. Next, turn left and walk to the corner of this field. Pass through gates either side of the road, heading towards a low rock.

3. The Cuckoo Stone is one of very few stones in the area that is made from sarsen – most local rock is chalk or flint. From here, continue forwards to the next gate.

4. You are now on the route of the old military railway between Amesbury and Larkhill; turn right and follow the path.

5. When you reach a crossroads and National Trust sign to King Barrow Ridge, turn left and follow the shaded bridleway.

6. At the junction, turn right through a gate to continue along the ridge, crossing the Stonehenge Avenue on your way to a line of 200-year-old beech trees and a fine view of Stonehenge. At winter solstice, Neolithic people may have marked the occasion of the midwinter sunset at Stonehenge, before travelling to Durrington Walls to celebrate the new sunrise.

7. Continue forward to New King Barrows, a fine row of Early Bronze Age burial mounds, originally capped in white chalk so they would have been visible from a far distance. Return to point 6, turn right and follow the stony track to point 8.

8. Take a left turn through a gap in the hedge, to join the old military railway once more. This leads back to the gate in the corner of the Cuckoo Stone field.

9. Head across the grassland to Woodhenge and back to Woodhenge car park.

STONEHENGE STONE CIRCLE








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